The New England Patriots’ rebound is officially underway with the team registering back-to-back wins in Weeks 9 and 10 to improve their record from 2-5 to 4-5. While the Patriots do appear to be trending in the right direction, however, they are still looking up in their division and conference as a whole: Bill Belichick’s squad is third in the AFC East behind the 7-3 Buffalo Bills and 6-3 Miami Dolphins, and just 10th in the AFC playoff picture.
While there is still a theoretical chance the Patriots can come from behind and snatch the division crown for a 12th consecutive year — extending their own record — the difficulty of their remaining schedule relative to those of the Bills and Dolphins make this an unlikely endeavor: as calculated by FiveThirtyEight, New England has only a 6 percent chance at winning the AFC East, compared to Buffalo’s 75 and Miami’s 19.
Accordingly, the team might be headed for the wild card race. Even there, however, it is currently on the outside looking in:
- Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0)
- Kansas City Chiefs (8-1)
- Buffalo Bills (7-3)
- Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
- Las Vegas Raiders (6-3)
- Miami Dolphins (6-3)
- Baltimore Ravens (6-3)
The top of the conference is in the safe hands of the unbeaten Steelers and the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs. Of course, only one of the clubs will eventually end up with the highly coveted playoff bye: under the NFL’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the top-seeded team will be the only one to have the first playoff weekend off. The other six, meanwhile, will compete against each other for the right to advance.
New England is not playing a role in this scenario, as things currently stand. However, if the team can carry some of its momentum from the 23-17 victory over Baltimore into the second half of its season, it should at least be in the conversation until the very end — until back-to-back matchups against the Dolphins and Bills in Weeks 15 and 16 will definitively decide the Patriots’ fate this season.
The NFC’s playoff picture, meanwhile, looks as follows:
- Green Bay Packers (7-2)
- New Orleans Saints (7-2)
- Arizona Cardinals (6-3)
- Philadelphia Eagles (3-5-1)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3)
- Los Angeles Rams (6-3)
- Seattle Seahawks (6-3)
The NFC playoff race is shaping up to be an exciting one over the next few weeks, with no clear leaders in all but one division. While the Packers sit comfortable atop the NFC North, the wild card spots and the other three divisions in general are highly contested — especially in the West and, for completely different reasons, East.